Category Archives: Land Use

Protecting ag land in Sonoma County

by Marc Bommersbach

Jackson Family Wines is proposing to convert a parcel of farmland at the corner of River and Slusser roads to a 50-room “eco” resort with restaurant, spa, pool and event center. The resort is part of a larger project that includes a winery at the same location as the resort and a residential subdivision in Wickiup.Because the proposed resort does not comply with the zoning code or the county’s general plan policies designed to protect farmland, the Board of Supervisors will have to vote to revise the general plan and zoning code to allow the resort to go forward, in effect overriding these policies and regulations.

Due to the unprecedented effort to convert a parcel of farmland in the middle of an agricultural area, a coalition of environmental and community groups including the Sierra Club, Greenbelt Alliance, Sonoma County Conservation Action, and Preserve Rural Sonoma County among others sent a letter to county officials requesting they signal that such a request by a developer is not likely to receive a favorable ruling.

The letter states: “Sonoma County has overwhelmingly voted for multiple initiatives to protect our precious open space and ag lands – urban growth boundaries, community separators, and tax increases to purchase land and development rights. Rezoning this parcel of prime farmland to commercial zoning flies in the face of the will of the people and the carefully-designed protections in our zoning code and General Plan to prevent such conversions.”

This proposal represents a frontal assault on the protections Sonoma County voters have put in place to prevent sprawl and protect open space and ag land and would set a dangerous precedent and encourage more conversions of farmland to commercial development.

The county recently began work on an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the project, however, the county’s own planning staff in a letter last year indicated that they could not support the project because “the development of a 50-guest room inn and related facilities is in conflict with a number of policies and inconsistent with the Plan’s principal goals to preserve agricultural land.”

It is important to promote Sonoma County’s agriculture and sustainable practices, and its ag land can accommodate wineries, wine tasting, organic gardens, educational events, farm retail and more to support ag tourism. But hotels belong elsewhere. With nearly 500 wineries, mostly located in agricultural areas, there are more than ample existing venues to showcase Sonoma County’s agricultural bounty and heritage.

There is a concern that if this project gets approved, it will open the door for any other developers and winery owners to pursue rezoning their property for resorts, further commercializing our rural and ag lands.

Please let our county officials know that rezoning our ag and rural land for commercial development that belongs in urban areas should not be allowed. Below are the e-mail addresses of the supervisors.

1st district supervisor Susan Gorin –
2nd district supervisor David Rabbitt –
3rd district supervisor Chris Coursey –
4th district supervisor James Gore –
5th supervisor district Lynda Hopkins –

You can view the full letter sent to the Board of Supervisors here.

To love the coast we had to save it

Richard Retecki and Carol Benfell, Sonoma County Gazette

Public involvement is also essential in tracking coastal plan permits and approvals, plan development and implementation and its local and cumulative impacts throughout the county coastal zone. The 1980 Local Coastal Plan had 95 people serving on nine citizen advisory committees and hundreds more were involved.

It’s taken the efforts of hundreds of people, organizations and government agencies, working together for more than sixty years, to preserve our magnificent, dynamic, and unique Sonoma County coast.

Now the Sonoma County Local Coastal Plan, an integral part of that decades-long preservation effort, is being revisited by county officials, and changes will be made. It will be important to be watchful and mindful that we do not lose what so many have fought to save.

Some of our coastal parks date back 90 years, to the very first days of the State Parks system — the 19-mile-long Sonoma Coast State Beach, one of the most visited state parks in California; Fort Ross Historic State Park, Kruse Rhododendron Reserve and Salt Point State Park.

In 1962, Doran Beach in Bodega Bay became the first county park to be created for public use. Gualala Point, Westside Park and Stillwater Cove followed Doran Beach as county coastal parks.

One of the biggest threats to the coast – and county residents — came when Pacific Gas & Electric in 1958 proposed a nuclear power plant at Bodega Head, right on top of the San Andreas Fault.

Bodega Bay residents fought back, led by Rose Gaffney and Hazel Mitchell, joined quickly by brothers Karl and Bill Kortum, and forestry student David Pesonen.

Their efforts launched a four-year-long public and legal battle, joined by The Sierra Club, The UC Marine Lab at Bodega Bay, and others. In 1962, PG&E reluctantly abandoned its plan. Watch Bill Kortum talk about the battle to save Bodega Head

At about the same time, plans were underway for massive housing developments along the coast. In the mid-1960s, the Jenner Bay Corporation proposed a 1,100 acre, 2,000-home project, with condominiums at Goat Rock, a golf course at Shell Beach, and a shopping center and Safeway at the intersection of Highway 1 and Highway 116. A 3,600-acre large lot subdivision was slated for Willow Creek.

Read the rest at

The endless battle to save our Sonoma Coast: Keeping an eye on the Local Coastal Plan update

Tom Roth, Redwood Chapter Conservation Chair

Link to Permit Sonoma’s Local Coastal Plan Update page.

Very few people are familiar with Rancho Del Mar, a place no longer found on Sonoma County maps. It was a sprawling sheep ranch — 5,200 acres — running 10 miles along the northern Sonoma County coast. But when a development company purchased the land in 1963, and renamed it Sea Ranch, it sparked a battle not resolved until 1981 and resulted in the nation’s strongest coastal protection law.

Sea Ranch was envisioned as residential development that blended in with the crashing waves, tall grasses and redwood-studded hills. Yet it engendered legal battles with consequences far beyond its vast ocean horizons. Thanks to the efforts of former County Supervisor Bill Kortum and a merry band of environmentalists calling themselves COAAST, court victories locally increased public participation in planning processes, cut the size of the development in half and eventually secured public access to six Sea Ranch beaches. Statewide, COAAST and an alliance of environmental groups scored even bigger, passing Proposition 20 in 1972, which created the first Coastal Commission.

Four years later, the state legislature passed the Coastal Act, making the Coastal Commission permanent and providing a framework for counties to create their own Local Coastal Programs to ensure permanent protection of the coast’s historic and biotic resources.

The Coastal Commission certified Sonoma County’s first Local Coastal Plan (LCP) in 1980. Three times in the 90s and in 2001, the LCP was updated to reflect changes in the county’s General Plan. The current LCP update process actually began in 2001 and may be completed this summer. Now the public is invited to comment on a Public Review Draft prior to it going to the supervisors (see meeting dates above).
Continue reading The endless battle to save our Sonoma Coast: Keeping an eye on the Local Coastal Plan update

Local jurisdictions must protect Urban Growth Boundaries

Teri Shore, Sonoma Group

The best way to ensure climate-healthy, wild-fire-safe, diverse and affordable communities is with voter-approved Urban Growth Boundaries (UGB). A UGB is simply a line around a city beyond which urban development is not allowed without approval of the voters.

As we decide how to face climate change, extreme weather and a housing crunch, we need to double down on climate-smart growth near jobs and transit and protection of natural land and water. The Urban Growth Boundary is a proven and critical tool for doing so.

Yet, pressure to sprawl is mounting from developers, some housing advocates and a few elected officials who say that we must choose between protecting natural lands and building housing. It is an outdated and false choice. We can and must do both in climate-smart ways.

The State of California is certainly on our side. The governor and legislature are pushing for climate-smart growth across the state with more funding for affordable homes and mandates to develop neighborhoods close to transit, jobs and schools. Sprawl into the greenbelts is nowhere in the policy mix, yet it many places it continues to spread. That’s why local activists are gearing up to defend UGBs city-by-city and county-by-county and gathering signatures to put new UGBs before the voters.
Continue reading Local jurisdictions must protect Urban Growth Boundaries

Warning: County rushing to approve Local Coastal Plan with insufficient time for public input

By Preserve Rural Sonoma County

“Know the coast as the geographic soul of California. You can’t take our relationship with the [California] coast for granted because it took a lot of sweat, blood and tears to preserve it so we have what we have today. These things didn’t just happen. The coast is what it is because a lot of people worked really hard and sacrificed to protect it. And if we want it to be there for our children, we have to keep fighting to protect it. In that way, the coast is never saved, it’s always being saved.” Peter Douglas, past Executive Director, California Coastal Commission.

Four years ago, a citizens group provided input on the Local Coastal Plan (LCP) draft and met with planners in Timber Cove to express concerns and were told their input would be included in the next iteration of the LCP. This input was completely ignored and left out of the current draft.

The County is trying to push this through for a final vote before giving adequate time for the public to digest this document and provide meaningful input that can be incorporated into the final version. It’s a long and very important document that will have effects for years to come.

Please take action. The public needs time to review.

Local Coastal Plan Update
On September 26, 2019 Permit Department posted the current 2019 Local Coastal Plan (LCP) Update. It is substantially revised and merits rounds of public workshops that have been proposed for October and November.

The timeline proposed for public comment prior to the revised draft being heard before the Planning Commission has not been clearly defined. This is now a complex 400 page document with critical policy issues. The suggested timeline is insufficient. The first LCP, drafted over 20 years ago, had 95 people working on it, including 5 technical scientific committees, 4 citizen committees, and a few other categories. It took them 4 years to create protections for this unique region.

It is important that adequate time be provided to ensure “meaningful public participation” and provide citizen input that can be incorporated into the final version, which is mandated in the Coastal Act.

The LCP is a large document and a critical one for the Sonoma Coast as it is THE document that controls all future development for 55 miles of the Sonoma Coastal Zone and ensures equitable public access to the coast and protection of critical coastal resources (including environmentally sensitive habitat areas). It is the controlling document for the Coast going forward and we will have to live with/by this document for the foreseeable future.

We deserve to be allotted the time and the public participation process
commensurate with the document’s critical importance to the future of the

Get Involved – Please Take the Following 2 Initial Steps:
1. Take the PRMD LCP Survey to request that workshops and written comment period is provided for and ask for at least 4 months to allow for comment. Get on the mailing list for LCP updates such as schedule of workshops or hearings by going to and in the right column there is a “Follow Us” link where you can submit your email address.
2. Email cc Lynda
Hopkins: and Coastal Commission
Stephanie Rexing: . Begin by stating why protection of the Sonoma Coast matters to you and then request that there be meaningful public participation in the LCP update process as required by the Coastal Act. Ask that the following provisions be made for the comment period:
a) Adequate time is provided to the public to review the Updated Local Coastal Plan prior to public workshops that are scheduled (minimum of 4 months from date of release – September 26th, 2019)
b) That the County schedule a minimum of 5 public workshops – 3 on Coast in Bodega Bay, Timber Cove, & Sea Ranch and 2 inland and that these be held after the 4 month period to allow the public to digest and research the issues. Staff has had 5 years to do this and now it is our turn to get into the details.
c) Ask that the County form an Advisory Committee to the Coastal MAC (Municipal Advisory Committee) made up of a variety of citizens from throughout the County who have expertise in land use, ocean policy, conservation, affordable housing, fire safety, Agriculture issues and water quality. (For the original draft of our Local Coastal Plan there were at least 5 Technical Advisory Committees formed, each made up of 8-12 citizens with expertise in the above listed areas. No such committees have been formed for this current updated LCP.)

Thank you for taking action and sharing.

Time to Renew Urban Growth Boundaries in Sonoma, Rohnert Park

Teri Shore, Sonoma Group Executive Committee

The best way to protect surrounding natural lands and build climate-smart, diverse communities for the next generation is to renew existing voter-approved Urban Growth Boundaries (UGB) before they expire.

All nine cities in Sonoma County adopted UGBs approved by an overwhelming majority of voters more than 20 years ago. Most cities have renewed those same boundaries by wide margins and without controversy for another 20 to 30 years. Next in line are Sonoma and Rohnert Park.

The UGB is simply a line around the city beyond which urban development is not allowed without approval of the voters. The UGBs protect open space and farm lands from sprawl and direct development into the city centers near jobs, schools, shops and public transit. The UGBs are the main reason that Sonoma County has kept its rural landscape and is now the gem of the Bay Area.

Rohnert Park UGB Back on Track
As a result of outreach by environmentalists and community activists, the Rohnert Park City Council recently voted unanimously to renew the city’s UGB with a vote of the people for another 20 years. It was set to expire in June 2020. The boundary and policies will remain the same, except for shrinking the UGB by 80 acres in the southeast corner south of Valley House Drive that overlapped with Penngrove. Those 80 acres then need to be added to the county community separators that surround the city.

The voters of Rohnert Park will vote on renewing the UGB with a ballot measure in a special election on Nov. 5. If you live in Rohnert Park or know someone who does, ask them to vote “yes” to renew the UGB. Also let us know if you have a group or neighborhood who’d like a presentation.

City of Sonoma UGB Under Threat
The Sonoma City Council has not yet decided how or when it will renew the city’s Urban Growth Boundary. Sierra Club is joining with other environmental groups and the community to urge the council to renew the existing UGB with a vote of the people before it expires in December 2020.

Sonoma has a new city council, city manager and planning director who are getting up to speed on the importance of the UGB as a key to maintaining the town’s rural character, preventing sprawl, and building a more climate-smart community. Unfortunately, a few housing advocates and developers are saying that we should expand into the greenbelt. They use are the same stale arguments from two decades ago that sprawling out is the answer to housing needs.

Most of us realize that the UGBs determine where we build, not what we build. That is decided by each city’s policies and decisions. UGBs have not caused the housing crunch. The rest of the Bay Area demonstrates that sprawl does not provide affordability.
The Sierra Club’s recent housing report documents all the reasons to focus on creating diverse, climate-smart neighborhoods where people of all incomes can live together while reducing single-auto travel.

We’ll need your help to convince city council members, including those endorsed by Sierra Club (Rachel Hundley, Logan Harvey and Amy Harrington), to take the lead in placing a renewal measure on the ballot next year. So far, Mayor Harrington and Councilmember David Cook have spoken in public meetings in support of the UGB renewal with a ballot measure and made sure that $100,000 was allocated in the budget to make it happen.

If the city council decides not to act, or proposes expansion or weakening of the policies, a group of Sonomans has formed the Citizens to Renew the City of Sonoma’s Urban Growth Boundary campaign committee to gather signatures if needed. Watch for updates!

For more info on the Urban Growth Boundaries, contact Teri Shore, Sierra Club Ex-Com, or contact the UGB Committee at

Sonoma County supervisors delay General Plan update (again)

Teri Shore, Sonoma Group Executive Committee

After a lengthy public hearing and difficult conversations held April 16, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors voted in favor of Permit Sonoma’s recommendation to delay work on the General Plan for at least another year. They decided to prioritize multiple important existing and new initiatives over the next two years. The Permit Sonoma Work Plan priorities will be finalized at the June 4 supervisors meeting.

See April 16 documents here

The General Plan update has been postponed for the past three years due to the fires and floods that have devastated our communities. The County of Sonoma urgently needs to respond to changed conditions since the last General Plan and to plan for an uncertain future and a “new normal.”

Most of the priority initiatves they will take up are supported by the environmental community, but several raise red flags due to conflicts with city-centered growth and the potential to increase greenhouse gas emissions. No climate measures were put on the priority list. We will need to continue to make the case for climate action, protecting our environment and public health, and ensuring homes for all as we face of an uncertain future.

The following list reflects the environmental priorities as in the five-page letter we sent to the supervisors about the Permit Sonoma Comprehensive Work Plan (available on request from


Cannabis Ordinance – Phase 2: Large community turn-out at public hearing in favor of revising cannabis ordinance.

Tree Ordinance – Second strongest community support at public hearing for updating tree ordinance. The County’s Tree Protection Ordinance allows trees including oak woodlands to be cleared for hay, wine grapes, without public review. A revision has been promised for more than a decade.

Local Coastal Plan – Finalize the “General Plan for the coast” and get approval from the California Coastal Commission as required. Previous draft sparked controversy due to plans to open up more coastal areas to commercial development.

Winery Event Regulations – Long overdue, not clear how soon the county will move forward or whether a draft of staff guidelines will ever be released or if the county will rely entirely on standards developed by wineries and/or neighbors in each area of over concentration.

Sonoma Developmental Center– Approved by board with funding from state for three years to develop a specific plan that will include housing on-site and protection of open space lands.

X Combining Zone Revisions (Vacation rental exclusion zones) – Opportunity to protect more residential areas from vacation rentals and make it easier for neighborhoods to apply.

Springs Specific Plan – Complete planning process in the Springs area of Sonoma Valley to allow more home and businesses. The EIR is due out soon for public review.


Airport Specific Plan – Not urgent, violates two Urban Growth Boundaries (Santa Rosa and Windsor), conflicts with existing General Plan which does not allow housing, requires General Plan amendment, controversial, and needs full Environmental Impact Report. Should be deprioritized at least until UGBs and downtowns are built out.

Southeast Santa Rosa/Santa Rosa Avenue Planning – Not urgent, conflicts with City of Santa Rosa UGB, General Plan, Downtown focus and Renewal Enterprise District, needs full EIR due to critical habitat for endangered tiger salamanders, wetlands, sensitive habitat. Has not been on any housing or other priority list by county or city until just now.

New Housing Initiatives – Rezoning of non-residential land use, Removal of Z zoning for ADUs on rural parcels– not urgent, needs full EIR, not city-centered, increases Vehicle Miles Traveled. Focus should remain on city-centered growth and in unincorporated communities, not rural lands.

More than 16,000 units of housing are currently in the pipeline across Sonoma County, according to estimates by the Sonoma County Transportation Authority. The City of Santa Rosa is advocating for new development downtown. The cities of Rohnert Park and Petaluma are currently building new homes. The smaller cities and unincorporated communities are also doing their part. Changing course to put more new housing on rural lands far from shops, jobs and schools needs to be analyzed as part of the bigger vision for our county through the General Plan update.


1. Provide a date certain timeline for the General Plan Update to be underway not later than 2020/21 with a specific timeline and resources, with no further delays.

2. Hold off on all development related General Plan amendments or rezoning initiatives with negative environmental impacts until the General Plan update is completed.

3. Uphold California Environmental Quality Act and ensure full environmental review of all projects, avoiding categorical exemptions and negative declarations.

4. Require conditional use permits as currently required and reduce (don’t increase) use of ministerial permits that remove public review and comment.

See the 050719_SierraClubSonomaGroupGeneralPlanLtr2 submitted to the County Board of Supervisors on May 8, 2019.